The hugely influential artist, architect, sculptor, painter and social engineer revolutionised the way we think about the built environment and then drowned in the Mediterranean
Translated by Danvers Couchmere from the original haughty French
February 7, 1954. An appalling start to the day at the breakfast-table. Once again, the sublime workings-out of my rationalist International-Style mind are foully disrupted by the Baroque incompetence of others.
How the blazes can L’Obscurier, the most eminent thinker of his generation, possibly shape an Egalitarian World of To-Morrow when the very machinery of his intellect is routinely sabotaged by his laundry-maid, his parlour-maid, his breakfast-maid & cetera?
This morning’s problem: My Napkin.
Surely we may all agree that no civilised breakfast should proceed without a heavy linen napkin pressed into a 226 x 226 x 286 isosceles triangle laid before the diner, the distinct side of the triangle to be aligned precisely parallel to the table’s edge at a remove of 26cm.
This morning’s napkin: inadequately ironed and so poorly folded, I can scarcely glance at its egregious hideousness. Breakfast is suspended while a properly-ironed, geometrically correct napkin is brought.
Then, despite the theatrically pneumatic annoyance of Mme L’Obscurier, I summon all nine of our house-servants to the breakfast-room to impress upon them the importance of correct napkin management.
At one point during my address I fancy I hear stifled laughter from Gigi, Mme L’Obscurier’s impertinent and ‘fast’ personal maid. Be that as-it-may, the room falls silent soon enough when I announce with a grim satisfaction that all Members of Staff are to be dismissed forthwith, without references! Oh, at last I have their full attention. The running of a household, I tell them, must emulate the organisation of a great city. Foresight and control are essential for order, a fusion of utilitarian and plastic solutions. Without Planning - be it in the provision of a napkin or in the commissioning of a future cosmopolis - we are mere motes in the air.
I remind them that a new epoch has begun. Rational buildings rise up through the disgusting miasma of the past, into a clear and mentholated Modern Future.
What, then, is our task? Our task is to safeguard the future of our historic city-centres. This may only be achieved through the removal of irrelevent cultural distractions and the application of Corrective Town Planning.
Let us forge new, purposeful urban environments.
Let us sweep away accidental buildings. The dark, cluttered tobacconist shop. The church. The unhygienic markets with their ill-aligned stalls. The ghastly drinking-houses, music halls, and kinemas of clownish aspect.
Let us have cubic light, and the poetry of brute materials!
POST SCRIPTUM. And acceptable napkins!
POST SCRIPTUM. I stand upon the deck of my yacht, The Paradox, naked, about to plunge into the sea when - what is this? A telegram arrives from Mme L’Obscurier. I snatch it from the telegram delivery boy’s gauntlet. His eyes - and those of the crew - are averted, as if in some preposterous mediaeval deference. The telegram reads: ‘STAFF REINSTATED STOP ENJOY YOUR STUPID SWIM STOP NO DANGER OF SINKING ALAS AS ARE ENORMOUS HUMAN WINDBAG STOP’.
Ha! If the foolish woman imagines she can goad me into needlessly testing myself against the Mediterranean, so be it!
Ian Martin is away